Plot-driven sus­pense book ‘Fuzzy Mud’ is a sure­fire hit with mid­dle school­ers


Spe­cial to the Whig

Hid­den away in small-town Penn­syl­va­nia is SunRay Farm. It is a farm in the nor­mal sense of the word: it grows mass quan­ti­ties of its par­tic­u­lar crop in or­der to sell to the rest of the na­tion. But that is re­ally the be­gin­ning and end of its be­ing a typ­i­cal “farm.”

If you are able to get past the barbed wire and elec­tric fences, past the alarms and cam­eras, and past the armed se­cu­rity guards, you will see noth­ing but hun­dreds of stor­age tanks. Be­neath those stor­age tanks is a series of tun­nels lead­ing to the se­cret lab­o­ra­to­ries of the sci­en­tists who act as SunRay Farm’s “farm­ers.” They are de­vel­op­ing a micro­organ­ism that will change the world, though whether it will be for the bet­ter or not is ques­tion­able. Th­ese micro­organ­isms are the cen­ter of “Fuzzy Mud” by Louis Sachar.

Thirty-three miles south­east of SunRay Farm is the lit­tle town of Heath Cliff, which is home to the pres­ti­gious pri­vate school Wood­bridge Academy. Sur­round­ing the school is a thick for­est that ev­ery stu­dent knows they must never en­ter. Fifth-grader Ta­maya Dhilwaddi and sev­enth-grader Mar­shall Walsh are the only two stu­dents who live close enough to the school that they can walk home each day and they must, un­der or­der of their re­spec­tive par­ents, stay to­gether. But when Mar­shall starts be­ing bul­lied by new kid Chad Hil­li­gas and is chal­lenged to a fight, Mar­shall de­cides to take a “short­cut” through the for­est to avoid him, and he drags Ta­maya with him.

In the for­est, they dis­cover ex­actly what it is that SunRay Farm is cre­at­ing: pud­dles of “fuzzy mud” have been spread through­out the woods and com­ing in con­tact with that mud has dan­ger­ous con­se­quences. When Chad fol­lows Mar­shall and Ta­maya into the woods, it sets off a chain of re­ac­tions that will spread through the en­tire world.

The main nar­ra­tive al­ter­nates with tran­scripts from a series of Se­nate Com­mit­tee hear­ings on SunRay farm and the dan­gers and ben­e­fits of its “crop.” This for­mat cre­ates a sense of sus­pense that left me, a pretty well­read adult, wait­ing very im­pa­tiently to see what hap­pens next.

“Fuzzy Mud” has all of the qual­i­ties of a solid mid­dle grade book. It deals with top­ics that el­e­men­tary and mid­dle school­ers want to read about, it has a wry sense of hu­mor that chil­dren and adults alike can en­joy, and it has a unique story that helps cre­ate di­a­logue about im­por­tant hy­po­thet­i­cals.

For more in­for­ma­tion, ti­tle avail­abil­ity and read­ing rec­om­men­da­tions, please visit the Ce­cil County Pub­lic Li­brary’s web­site at ce­cil.ebranch. info, face­­cil­coun­ty­pub­li­cli­brary, call 410-996-5600 or stop by any branch.


Tar­gon­ski’s work is full of sub­tle ad­di­tions, such as the yel­low, cir­cu­lar ad­di­tions in­cluded in this photo.

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